Curved Space Review: Innovation Needs Execution
Critics often give games praise for trying something new. We play a lot of familiar titles, so when something comes along which feels unique, it stands out. Taking a risk and trying something different can be great, but it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming anything different is good. Different isn’t inherently good or bad; it is only different. Curved Space is different. It tries things in the twin-stick genre, which I haven’t seen before, and I appreciate the risks the developers took. They don’t really pay off, though.
Now You’re Thinking With Curves
The big change in Curved Space is that all of the game’s levels are curved. Think Mario Galaxy, except the levels aren’t all planetoid. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some feel like a planet, others like a twisting track, while others seek to combine a variety of shapes in a way that is difficult to describe. You move freely around the levels, gliding smoothly over a variety of surfaces. Controls are relatively tight though they’re just floaty enough that they take a little getting used to.
While these surfaces open up a lot of potential options for play, they bring a big problem with them. The big one is that moving freely around these levels, especially as fast as your ship moves, can be nausea-inducing. I spent the early chapters of Curved Space fighting off a powerful case of vertigo which I rarely get. Even VR games rarely cause me issues, yet here I briefly thought I might lose my lunch. I did get mostly used to it in time, but it never entirely stopped being uncomfortable. Curved Space encourages you to play with the camera settings to find something that is most comfortable for you. I appreciated that, but none of the changes worked as well as the default while playing the game. Once I mostly adjusted, I found fun in the game’s action, but the camera isn’t the only issue here.
A Short Campaign
Curved Space’s main mode is a fairly short campaign. You’re a spaceship pilot who loves killing space spiders. A pair of different versions of you from other dimensions show up, and you have to help or stop them. Don’t think too much about the story; it doesn’t make much sense. It’s really just an excuse to get you into a variety of different levels. The voice acting is strong, at least, though your character’s quips still eventually get old. The story can split off in a few different directions; however, one of the only reasons you might replay it.
Missing Variety Where It Matters Most
A variety of weapons dot each level, but only a few really felt good. Some are just bizarre. In a game where enemies are flying at you in waves, do I really need a weed whacker that kills only things about two feet in front of me? How about a sniper shot which fires one slow shot at a time? It’s okay against bosses but terrible in all other scenarios. At least you get to carry two weapons at a time (you can add more with power-ups) so you can be ready for different scenarios. This allows you to try a new weapon without giving up the one that’s been carrying you. That’s a relief because so many of the new ones I tried were awful, making me go right back to my old one.
While there’s solid variety in levels and weapons, that’s not true of what you do in those levels. There’s only a short list of objectives, which most levels throw a few of at you. Sometimes you just need to kill certain enemies. Other times you’ll need to kill only a specific enemy, avoiding all others. At times you just need to survive for a set amount of time, either on your own or while controlling turrets. The most unique ones are when Curved Space asks you to use an energy beam to grab enemies and then attach them to energy nodes. You can also use this to attach enemies to each other, allowing you to hurt them all at once. You can even use your dash as a great attack against attached enemies. I liked that last implementation, but attaching them to nodes got old pretty quick.
Unlike most twin-stick shooters, you’ll need to pull or hold down a trigger to fire. The right stick is only for controlling the camera. After killing enough enemies, you’ll be thrown into an overdrive state where you do more damage and can dash more freely. It doesn’t last long, but it can be a lifesaver in tight spots. Those spots are rare, however. Curved Space is never really hard. Once or twice I got myself into danger being overly aggressive, but I rarely went below half of my health, and the game throws health at you like free candy.
Finish The Fight
Many levels end with a boss fight, with some interestingly varied bosses. Far too often, however, the solution to beating them was too simple. Lashing and dashing into them is way overpowered here, to the point where just shooting feels pointless. At least the bosses have a quick pace which fits the game, though. The pacing is all over in Curved Space. Action can at times be fast and furious, with waves of enemies coming from every direction. Yet the game is strangely slow at other times. Many levels start with a long wait for the early enemies to spawn. After a level ends and you get a power-up, it also insists on dropping you back in for no reason for a few long beats. It isn’t a big deal, but it also adds nothing. Why not just go right to the next mission?
A few extra modes are available beyond the campaign, but none of them grabbed my attention. A daily run gives you a unique daily challenge to fight for the leaderboards on. Endless mode is just that, though I quickly grew bored. Arena mode provides specific challenges, but too many of them involve weapons or scenarios that just aren’t fun. Survival mode is probably the best of the bunch, letting you pick any unlocked level and set up your own unique challenges within it.
Curved Space tries new things in the twin-stick genre. I appreciate the attempt, but most of those new things don’t work out. Playing it is often uncomfortable, and too many of its weapons are duds. At times the fast-paced shooting can be enjoyable, but even that is too often broken up by pacing issues. I’m all for destroying spiders, but I’d rather do so without feeling sick to my stomach.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch (coming soon); Publisher: Maximum Games; Developer: Only By Midnight Ltd.; Players: 1; Released: June 29th, 2021; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Curved Space provided by the publisher.